summer’s abundance

June 22, 2022

Queen Anne’s Lace 

by William Carlos Williams

Her body is not so white as

anemony petals nor so smooth—nor

so remote a thing. It is a field

of the wild carrot taking

the field by force; the grass

does not raise above it.

Here is no question of whiteness,

white as can be, with a purple mole

at the center of each flower.

Each flower is a hand’s span

of her whiteness. Wherever

his hand has lain there is

a tiny purple blemish. Each part

is a blossom under his touch

to which the fibres of her being

stem one by one, each to its end,

until the whole field is a

white desire, empty, a single stem,

a cluster, flower by flower,

a pious wish to whiteness gone over—

or nothing.

My drives down the winding roads of northern Arkansas keep nudging me toward a memory of William Carlos Williams’ poem as fields of wild carrot waver in the wind and shimmering heat of early summer.

I gave away all of my Norton’s anthologies when I moved at the end of April.  It was a promise to myself, I think, to purchase eventually actual volumes of the poetry I would refer to again and again until my last day on this planet rather than depend on massive collections of writings curated by scholars I honestly have no lingering respect for.  Bye bye, academic past.  My boots are on the ground beside the Queen Anne’s lace, not in your stupid ivory tower.

This August I will turn 57, having traveled distances both measurable and infinite to a small house in northern Arkansas tending five flourishing cats, four tomato plants, and some struggling okra.  I realize every day that, no matter how exhausted I am, I am fortunate to be able to continue to adapt to the challenges life always places in front of us.  There is a humility that has come upon me, arguably a little late, that all I can hope to do for others is to model the best of what I can summon in myself every day.  These qualities mostly comprise patience and humor.   People want to be listened to and need ways to handle the increasing stress that constant change incurs.

As usual, I don’t know how long this spot will provide refuge for me or what I will do when my seasonal park ranger job ends.  But for an improbably long span of time the universe has supported me, so I will place some portion of faith in the notion that if I serve what I believe to be true, there will be assistance provided when required.  We all get to work our theories, so I’ll choose this one and see how far and to what interesting places it continues to take me.

Happy summer to all who stumble across this through strange accidents.

Dazed spring

April 3, 2022

Spring and All

By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast-a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen

patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines—

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches—

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind—

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined—
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance—Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

William Carlos Williams

I had turned to WCW to refresh my memory of “A Widow’s Lament in Springtime,” its perfectly calibrated expression of the soul’s instinctive resistance to spring’s invitation untarnished by its ubiquitous inclusion in 20th century American poetry anthologies.  Invariably I feel this way around the turning of winter into spring, and it’s grown more palpable with the loss of my best friend.  Rereading the poem I see that the widow lived “thirty five years” with her husband, a denomination of time much too close to the 34 years I knew Frank.  Going ahead with life when a dear one will not is almost too much.

But “Spring and All” also gets to the gritty reality of life returning and deserves attention, especially since each day when I walk along the road for some 250 yards to the charter school’s track to get a short walk in, I pass distressing amounts of trash intermingling the greening.  People speeding from one place to another, their stereos blasting, wolfing down fast food and drinking liquor from “minis” that they toss from their cars, their lives are considered as equally disposable by the elites who are governing us.  These people, my neighbors, don’t realize consciously that the elites feel this way, although their frenzied behavior seems to suggest that deep down they do know.  What they leave in their wake suggests a notion of joy that involves a desperation to consume as much and as quickly as possible and a lack of attentiveness that concerns me.

I, on the other hand, have been forcing myself to slow to almost imperceptible movements.   While it feels radically different from most people’s responses to the season’s increasing vibrancy, it’s my way of coaxing myself back into the world with as much awareness as I can bring to the risks and rewards of being alive and aware at this moment in history.  A lot of pieces are still in play, too much remains unresolved, and everyone’s attendance and attention is urgently required.  One needs time and space to accommodate not merely the hopefulness but also the sorrow that is intertwined.

I have a little framed piece of glass that I purchased when I was in California in the summer of 2020.  It’s designed to hold cards with quotations, and from the assortment at that particular store, I chose this one.

All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.

Anatole France

Dying and being reborn are a tough act to do simultaneously but it is happening all the time, even as the sunlight infuses the blue sky.  Right now as I try to accommodate the rising energies of the natural world into my own rhythms, I’m also husbanding my energy for another momentous act – that of departure.

Over the next month, possessions will be forgotten, broken, purposefully discarded.  Plans will be revised, my patience will be strained, tears will fall, ugly exclamations uttered, the skin on my hands will chafe and all the fingernails will tear.  Routines will break down to be reconfigured slowly elsewhere.

The last glance I give this space that has afforded me with security and comfort will be in anxious haste as I rush to my next destination, cats already in their travel containers, my car key secured safely in my pocket, my aching body able only to drive away with a last look in the rear-view mirror.

This observation is one gleaned from the close-to-innumerable relocations I’ve accomplished in my more than five decades on this earth; another involves the strange qualities time possesses.  Upon learning that my next adventure would transpire in another state, my first reaction was to plot out what needed to be done in order to get everything accomplished.  Then I paused, recollecting how so many times I would rush around frantic — packing my possessions, rushing to appointments to secure another rental, redo the calculations on how much money would be needed — only to have my fate meet me calmly less than two weeks from the day I needed to be gone.

True, I’ve been extremely fortunate, even in the midst of calamities I couldn’t have planned for, to arrive at a new home that would shelter and comfort me, and from which I would, one day, leave for another.  One cannot count on fortune the same way one can total one’s financial assets.  But there is an understanding that seems to me true so far:  if you rise to meet your future, it will meet you when you most need it.  Having faith in this promise is like the faith the trees have in winter, knowing their leaves will return.

I will need countless miracles, but Nature reminds me they happen every day.  If I listen carefully, I may be able to hear them approach.

A gift for burning

December 29, 2021

Song  by Adrienne Rich

You’re wondering if I’m lonely:

OK then, yes, I’m lonely

as a plane rides lonely and level

on its radio beam, aiming

across the Rockies

for the blue-strung aisles

of an airfield on the ocean.

 

You want to ask, am I lonely?

Well, of course, lonely

as a woman driving across country

day after day, leaving behind

mile after mile

little towns she might have stopped

and lived and died in, lonely.

 

If I’m lonely

it must be the loneliness

of waking first, of breathing

dawn’s first cold breath on the city

of being the one awake

in a house wrapped in sleep.

 

If I’m lonely

it’s with the rowboat ice-fast on the shore

in the last red light of the year

that knows what it is, that knows it’s neither

ice nor mud nor winter light

but wood, with a gift for burning.

 

This has been a favorite of mine for 10 years or so when I typed it out, printed it (a printer! what a luxury!), and pasted it above my computer at one of my favorite jobs (a job! what a luxury!).  I wrote it out by hand on a warm Arizona afternoon in early November 2020 during my camping expedition across the western US and took a picture of it.  Today Rich’s final image came to mind on a frigid, gray morning in northern New Mexico as I thought about the long year passed, a year of knowing what the end game of this biomedical hijack was and seeing it progress with terrifying speed.

Burn the whole fucking thing down.

A few people blessed with a strong moral core are casting about for how to contribute.  From my perspective, we must each and everyone of us remember we are soldiers, not generals.  When our time to serve arrives, we must step up and contribute our unique gifts.  The fight will be longer than perhaps even the span of one person’s life.

Too many have died already for this criminal agenda.  Of course, we all die.  When will people accept death as part of the experience of living, I wonder.  But to be sacrificed to the banksters and media titans, to the scum who are willing to lie with such effrontery in the hope that they too will be invited onto the life raft?  That I will NOT accept.

I am dangerous because I know how to be lonely.  Because I know how to sacrifice.  Because I have retained my integrity.  Because I can gather my own information, think for myself, say NO with conviction, say YES to life from the depth of my soul.  I am tinder, ready to burn.

2022.  Bring it on.

The blessing of children

December 18, 2021

Like a lot of Counterpunch refugees (left-ugees?), I occasionally check what I once considered an indispensable website for critiquing empire. I suppose my curiosity is spurred by two impulses. The first, to ascertain the various sleight-of-hand tricks they’re using to to suppress/repress/outright deny the corporate takeovers rampant around the globe. The second, which can be categorized under “wishful thinking,” is to see if they’ve finally come to the realization that big Tech, big Pharma, and government are no more concerned about the electorate’s well being, let alone personal agency, than they ever were.

In this week’s Friday round-up, I chose one article whose title seemed designed to provoke my greatest ire: “America’s ‘Culture of Death’: Covid-19, Gun Insanity, White Supremacy, Ecological Destruction, and Public Indifference.” How could I go wrong? This writer, who admits to being in a graduate program in political science at University of St Francis in Joliet (hmm) in the 2000s, seems to be willing to throw every hot button issue that mercenary writers regularly deploy into one stew pot.

By the 2nd or so paragraph I came across this juicy tidbit

As the American death toll from Covid-19 climbed into the hundreds of thousands (it currently stands at over 800,000), the Republican Party obstructed minimal efforts to reduce loss of life, touting a childlike notion of “freedom” over the safety of human beings. Teachers, workers, the elderly and disabled, and even children were worthy of sacrifice, according to elected officials like Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, for the health of the stock market, or the preservation of something called, “the American way of life.” 800,000 Americans cannot enjoy any way of life, nor can they applaud the profit maximization of the rich, because they are dead.

I guess this guy is too busy swallowing the lies shoveled out by Pfizer bagboy Fauci et. al. to do any real research. Even his screed on Rittenhouse should be cleaned up for credibility. “Three BLM protesters” were shot, he says. How about including the salient fact that the first of them had been released from mental facility THAT day and was clearly looking to join anything violent regardless of the cause? Oh well. Facts do get in the way at times. The good news is that if you’re preaching to the choir, who’s going to notice?

Clearly not the last man with editorial control @ Counterpunch, a bloviating nincompoop who couldn’t hold a candle to the person I consider one of the better journalists of our times, its founder Alexander Cockburn. I know Cockburn didn’t cotton to “conspiracy theories,” but I wonder what he would be saying today if he hadn’t died 9 years ago.

I really shouldn’t attack the moron who wrote the article. St. Clair needs to publish something for his donors to pat themselves on the pack for their self-satisfied refusal to let democracy be swallowed by the Orange boogeyman. Enough contributing writers have had to go elsewhere to spread the alarm that what we have really to fear are toxic batches of gene-therapy shots that are being administered to children who are naturally immune; vaccine mandates that are being rapidly deployed, resulting in wide-scale unemployment of what were once considered “esssential workers” as well as a two-tiered society all set for government sanctioned discrimination; and wholesale land grabs by BlackRock of commercial real estate left vacant by small businesses who couldn’t survive the planned demolition of the lockdowns. I won’t even get into the global digital currency issue.

I eventually read the entire bloody mess. But what got me right off the bat was the phrase “a childlike notion of ‘freedom’.” (To back this up, by the way, he uses Deborah Birx as some kind of expert! I mean, the toad who stood behind Trump until it was no longer useful for her to do so, and then she changed sides, rather like a highly paid power hitter for a MLB franchise.  When did money whores become freedom-fighting heroines, I wonder?)

The phrase just kept turning around in my digestive system, not sitting well at all. I’m a bit of an expert on our founding fathers, so you won’t hear me spouting too much about those slave owners since they were all in their own ways hypocrites. But to state that there are degrees of maturity to notions of “freedom” makes me wonder whether this might not have been a phrase on the lips of King George III when he received reports of tea being dumped in Boston by those irritating colonials.

I use abstractions almost as much as the next person, but I’ve been careful about using words like “freedom.” I hate that bumper sticker that says something along the lines of “Freedom is not free” and seems to be designed to commemorate veterans who were duped (one hopes) by world leaders who willingly fomented nationalistic antipathies in order to funnel public funds into the war machines and associated industries (like, wait for it, Big Pharma).

But some freedoms are not designed to be legislated. The Declaration of Independence says that these truths are self-evident: “That [people] are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Governments are formed to secure these rights but NOT to abridge them. My right, for instance, to breathe oxygen, is inalienable. Forcing me to wear a mask abridges this right. My rights to gather with others, to travel, are inalienable. My right to decide what I have injected into my body is inalienable.

All of these rights are being taken away with breathless alacrity as well as all the rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. As RFK Jr has noted, only the second amendment still stands after the devastation that comprised the government’s collective response to the covid-19 pandemic.

A “childlike” notion of freedom? I, for one, don’t feel the need to insult the intelligence of children after all the insults they have endured so far and will continue to endure with their over-worked and under-educated parents unwilling or unable to protect them from being injected so that the poor kids will be able to sit in a classroom in front of a computer (rather than sitting at home in front of a computer). What is happening on many levels in the lives of children these days is almost too much for me to bear.

Perhaps the writer is referring to indigenous people such as the tribal leaders in Australia who last month issued a call for help to the global community to stop the genocide (and accompanying land grab) that is being perpetrated there? Or maybe the resistance from the African American community in agreeing to this experimental drug?  Well, that wouldn’t be very politically-correct, would it?  And you can see from the title that what is politically correct is the framework for his screed.  Including, I would add, hating humanity since we are the ones who are not only causing ecological catastrophes with our pesky presence but continue to refuse to do nothing about it.  For shame!

In fact, what is surprisingly “child-like” is the obedience such people are demanding from citizens. “Do as you’re told” is the mantra, which, if there was anything about my “childhood” I couldn’t abide, it was that call to heed authority that was so blatantly baseless. “Because I say so.” “Trust me/ trust the science/ don’t ask any questions that destroy the official narrative.” The people who are repeating these phrases are the ones infantilizing the rest of us. I’m not an expert in psychoanalysis, but there is a word I’m pretty confident using to describe this: projection.

I suggest we listen carefully to the insults they’re hurling our way. We might even start to put together a story about deep personal insecurity and panic inducing fear that begins deep down in these oppressive authoritarians and is being carried out by their most desperate foot soldiers. What’s most contagious these days is the terror they are spreading, not a stupid endemic virus. By telling us to “adult-up,” they are admonishing us for what we are already doing and what they can’t seem to accomplish themselves: paying attention, making connections, and forming resistance.

I have been writing this blog for almost 12 years now, and nowhere in any of my entries do I deny my difficulty loving the human race nor do I fail to insist that it is the right thing to do regardless of how difficult it may be.  I will be holding a space for all those entranced by this stupid narrative and continue to battle not only for my freedom but for their eventual return to light and love.  It is the “child-like” thing to do.

.Coll IMJ,. photo (c) IMJ

Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus

Emily, Robert, and reading poetry to our dead

December 8, 2021

When I taught American Literature at a community college 3 years ago, I got to reread Emily Dickinson. I wish I’d been reading Robert Bly  at the time. I would have included his poem “Visiting Emily Dickinson’s Grave with Robert Francis.”

I won’t type it all out. I’m too irritated by the cats this morning who hate the food I put down — their pleading eyes and whiny presences assault me; by the bagel I dropped on the floor, its melted butter dripping down the cupboard that I can either clean now or watch turn shiny then grimey by turns; by the Sikh landlady’s husband who will soon issue forth from their front door to drive to some morning ceremony that has nothing to do with where and what he was born into but rather what he wishes he could be.

Which, translated, means I am irritated with myself, with my restlessness that makes food lack flavor, life’s intricacies difficult to encompass, and my own potential for compassion too distant to believe in.

Here’s part of Bly’s poem:

The Dickinson house is not far off. She arrived here one day, at 56, Robert says, carried over the lots between by six Irish laboring men, when her brother refused to trust her body to a carriage. The coffin was darkened with violets and pine boughs, as she covered the immense distance between the solid Dickinson house and this plot.

The distance is immense, the distances through which Satan and his helpers rose and fell, oh vast areas, the distances between stars, between the first time love is felt in the sleeves of the dress, and the death of the person who was in that room . . . the distance between the feet and head as you lie down, the distance between the mother and father, through which we pass reluctantly.

Reading Dickinson, one is struck by her notions of time and space that defy the Newtonian physics that prevailed during her lifetime. By just placing two words or images together or shifting verb tenses she manages to do this.

And Bly seems to get at this in his tribute, invoking the Christian mythology that Emily reworked like needlework, pulling out and placing down more precisely what the experience of living spiritually felt like in the brain and soul; the physical details that resist abstraction: the sleeves of the dress where love is “felt,” the body itself, and the family – all equally real, mysterious, and holy in their journeys through time and space.

I did show this short video to my students at the time.  I still think of it fondly.  And Bly reminds me of Bill Murray, a comparison I think he might have enjoyed.

 
 

 

 
191 years ago, Emily Dickinson was born.  She died at 55.  Robert Bly died this November at the age of 95.  My friend Frank died 18 months ago at 55.  None of these statements point to any design that will lead to spiritual illumination.  They are my constellations:  points of light in time and space that I have given significance to, but which meaning will vanish when I am gone.
 
Before we scattered my friend’s ashes on an August afternoon in Monterey Bay, I read a poem from a collection of Stephen Dobyn’s works titled “A Separate Time.”  Choosing what to read was difficult; Frank and I had shared so many poems in the decades of our friendship. It was either the final lines from Whitman’s “Song of Myself” or this one.  I chose Dobyn’s primarily because of the jokey opening which elides time (“In the years since I saw you on Sunday,” it begins), a subsequent line that builds neatly upon this foundation  (“In the time precious to newspapers and clocks,/ only a few days have passed”), and its central image of water returning toward source (“But always I saw myself walking toward you,/ as a drop of water touching the earth immediately/ turns toward the sea.”).
 
Months later, learning of Bly’s death, I opened a collection of American poets born in the 20th century to read what was collected there.  One was “Mourning Pablo Neruda.”  My friend’s last international trip in December 2017 was to Chile where he had visited Neruda’s home.  And the image of water was waiting for me there.

Water is practical,
especially
in August, water
fallen
into the buckets
I carry
to the young willow trees
whose leaves
have been eaten off
by grasshoppers.
Or this jar of water
that lies
next to me
on the carseat
as I drive to my shack.
When I look down,
the seat all around the jar
is dark,
for water doesn’t intend
to give,
it gives anyway,

and the jar of water
lies there quivering
as I drive
through a countryside
of granite quarries,
stones soon
to be shaped
into blocks for the dead,
the only thing
they have left
that is theirs.

For the dead remain
inside us, as water
remains
in granite-
hardly at all-
for their job is to go away,
and not come back,
even when we ask them.
But water comes
to us,
it doesn’t care
about us, it goes
around us, on the way
to the Minnesota River,
to the Mississippi,
to the Gulf,
always closer
to where
it has to be.
No one lays flowers
on the grave
of water,
for it is not
here,
it is gone.

For anyone hungry for more Robert Bly

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MVGvTgyEbOM

The Quickening

September 13, 2021

Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Excerpted from “September 1, 1939,” by W. H. Auden

The water at the lake where I work is diminishing in volume and clarity.  Realizing I might find an apt description of its quality in Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” I toted my Norton Anthology of British Literature to work on Sunday morning to refresh my memory before visitor traffic increased. 

Coleridge’s description of the hellish waters of the secret sea was indeed apt.  “The water, like a witch’s oils,/ Burnt green, and blue and white.”  But it was his ballad’s powerful message that began to fill my depleted reserves

He prayeth well, who loveth well

Both man and bird and beast.

 

He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all.

My hunger for poetry quickened, I turned to some of the poems by Yeats and Auden.  Auden’s elegy for Yeats brought tears to my eyes, but it was “September 1, 1939” that made my head spin.  Yeats’ “gyres” – that is, his notion of the circles of time – seem inescapably accurate when one considers the world from Auden’s perspective in NYC on the occasion of Germany’s invasion of Poland and how his first stanza could stand as a description of the cultural landscape today (vaccine mandates aside).

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Six months ago, as the covid nightmare continued its unfolding, I began reading works by Alice Miller and Bruno Bettelheim to understand the psychology of those who had accepted the totalitarianism of Nazi Germany.  I hoped to be able to explain to myself why so many individuals today were allowing their liberties to be constricted inexorably in the name of a virus that statistics demonstrate is essentially banal. 

One inescapable lesson I learned was that we seem to have forgotten what Auden, Miller, Bettelheim and “all schoolchildren” knew:  “Those to whom evil is done/ Do evil in return.”

My ex-husband, for instance, essentially a high-level administrator at Harvard, no doubt shares in full-on divisive hate fest that is the “vaxxed vs. anti-vaxxed” drama.  In this public passion play, we have been chosen for sides like school children on the playground with all the same non-reflexive motives as 10 year olds possess.  He would not see himself (or, more specifically, blame his parents whose families were expelled from Hungary after WWII for having been forcibly conscripted by the Nazis) as one “tho whom evil is done,” but his mother, as much as she might have loved her only son, would find herself in despair shrieking at him when he misbehaved, “You make me want to kill myself.” 

Trauma cascades down generations and pretending it doesn’t not only serves no one but traps us in the same sickening loops.

Just as Miller and Betteleheim traced the rise of fascism and the obeisance to it among the German populace from the widely practiced child-rearing behaviors at the turn of the 19th century, so we encounter a populace today so traumatized by decades of consumer culture that they are unable to realize that their freedoms are being curtailed because they were never truly experienced what it means to be free.

Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving is quite astute on this.  It’s impossible to choose one or two quotations to sum up this short work, but something from the end might provide a sense of its argument:

Our society is run by a managerial bureaucracy, by professional politicians; people are motivated by mass suggestion, their aim is producing more and consuming more, as purposes in themselves.  All activities are subordinated to economic goals, means have become ends; man is an automaton — well fed, well clad, but without any ultimate concern for that which is his peculiarly human quality and function.  If man is to be able to love, he must be put in his supreme place …. Society must be organized in such a way that man’s social, loving nature is not separated from his social existence, but becomes one with it.

Auden’s poem reflects this massive pain and suffering of modern man in this way

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

He, like Fromm some years later, sees the problem as one “bred in the bone” from childhood (“children afraid of the night/Who have never been happy or good”) —  that of craving what it cannot have:  “to be loved alone.” 

What this “love” comprises is manufactured by the culture industry.  Fromm delineates some of these notions of “love” that palliate our starved sense of ourselves.  As Fromm describes one typical scenario

Automatons cannot love; they can exchange their “personality packages” and hope for a fair bargain.  One of the most significant expressions of love, and especially of marriage with this alienated structure, is the idea of the “team.”  In any number of articles on happy marriage, the ideal described is that of the smoothly functioning team.  This description is not too different from the idea of a smoothly functioning employee; he should be “reasonably independent,” co-operative, tolerant, and at the same time ambitious and aggressive.

Some fifteen years earlier, Auden describes what, beyond what’s served in the “dives” on 52nd Street, serves to minimally nourish people terrorized into accepting less that what would truly satiate them.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”

The two — love and work — are the mantras emplaced by the corporate culture industry.  The form of love people are psychologically engineered to secure in a world inherently insecure is implicitly designed to get he employee back to work, buy the consumer goods, pay the mortgage, take up useless hobbies, train offspring to do same.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Because nothing I encounter can be disentangled from my personal story, I want to add that my copy of Fromm’s book once belonged to my former lover/best friend Frank.  At the memorial held in celebration of his life last month, his family offered books that had comprised his personal collection for attendees to take home.  Too many conflicting emotions were coursing through me to make strategic choices, but when I spied the title and author of this non-fiction book from a pile of poetry collections, I was compelled to choose it.

I have no idea when he acquired it, why, or what he gleaned from it.  But in his indelible manner, he highlighted certain passages, retaining the qualities of a diligent scholar even when it came to learning more about love and, perhaps, his inability to find surcease from his quest to find it.  What struck me most in these underlined sections was how he gravitated to those sentences that confirmed his own biases, not to insights that would have threatened them.  For instance, he was a man traumatized by his father’s lack of praise, but nothing of what Fromm covers on this is underlined.

I, like all of us, will forget, remember, and forget again many things gleaned throughout my lifetime, including my experience of reading Fromm’s brief treatise on The Art of Loving through the lens of someone who meant /still means so much to me.  But one conclusion I believe I will retain is that we tell ourselves stories about ourselves that, as much as they appear to liberate us continue to trap us into cycles of pain and suffering.  That is why art such as Auden’s remains so power if we take moments to return, to study, to reflect. 

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

My Norton Anthology footnote tells me that Auden eventually revised this last line of this penultimate stanza to “We must love one another and die.”  I wonder, too, if he were alive today, whether he would say “There is no such thing as the State.”  Perhaps for what he wanted to say and when he needed to speak it, that was an acceptable provisional truth.  Maybe it is today.  I would love to have the chance to discuss that with him, or with my friend Frank, over some drinks in a 52nd Street dive today.  But since that isn’t possible, I will make a promise to keep thinking, keep returning, keep disbelieving my own stories so that despite being “Beleaguered by the same / Negation and despair” I may “Show an affirming flame.”

Here is a link to Auden’s complete poem.

https://poets.org/poem/september-1-1939